Sentimentality Kills

In Rodney Clapp’s eclectic little book spanning the life and work of Johnny Cash, country music, American culture, and Christian identity he tackles the sentimentality that he believes is at the heart of ecclesial degeneration in America today:

“Because idolatry is the most destructive of sinful conditions, the greatest danger to the true faithfulness of the American church comes not from without but from within. That danger is not persecution or victimization or accusations of hypocrisy, but our own all-too-easy tendency to sentimentalize our faith. To sentimentalize the faith is to instrumentalize it, to make it a tool of our ambitions, our comfort, and our security. Sentimentalization is mild-mannered idolatry, sin sweetened and trivialized. Sentimentality kills vital faith with bland complacency.” (60)

My teacher, Stanley Hauerwas, once wrote,”The great enemy of the church today is not atheism but sentimentality.” (The Hauerwas Reader, p. 526) He wrote a blurb on the back of Clapp’s book, and  I imagine he would agree with Clapp’s assessment.

What he describes as sentimentalization is all over North American protestantism. Many of the regnant forms of preaching and worship that pastors are encouraged to adopt are designed to comfort rather than convict, to sell self-actualization rather than exhort cruciform living.  Sentimentalization is the cross reduced to a decoration made of diamonds and silver; discipleship reduced to Instagram Bible verses; asceticism sacrificed on the altar of low expectations – it is Christian faith made into a series of Precious Moments figurines.

Sentimentality is a milquetoast approach to faith designed to be unobtrusive and inoffensive.  But a gospel that does not offend is no gospel; the Word brings not peace but a sword, and divides sinew from flesh. (Matthew 10:34, Hebrews 4:12) It is the kind of Christian life a marketer would design to sell to middle class Americans with overstuffed lives and underdeveloped souls.

Sentimentality is killing us.

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Sentimentality Kills – via @DrewMcIntyre | Talmidimblogging
    […] via Sentimentality Kills — Drew McIntyre | Plowshares Into Swords […]
  2. ReplyLanny
    Interesting concept, Drew! So, the question I would have is how Clapp distinguished between sentimentality and a true "heart strangely warmed" experience.
  3. ReplyPJ
    Heart strangely warmed feels good and without action amount to a warm fuzzy. I have been traveling RV full time for 7 years and visited over 50 churches and sermons ranged from bland to warm without a challenge or minimal conviction. It is obvious to me that preachers "feel" convicted on their content but delivery is so safe, it's hard to tell. Preachers need courage to promote discipleship but in a politically correct culture Safe takes place of challenge. The author is right on, which is why churches struggle to move people into action. Politically motivated preachers then tend to preach an agenda without any filtering thru the gospels or at the minimum perhaps ask if Jesus would approve.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.